Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

Clyde Turner

One of the most amazing aspects of the outstanding 13-year career of Clyde (Bulldog) Turner in the National Football League is the fact that he had the opportunity to play pro football at all.

Back in 1940, the NFL draft, first began in 1936, was still in its infant stages of scouting for many teams consisted of a sometimes detailed, sometimes not-so-detailed perusal of the football magazines that made their annual predictions of the All-America teams for the coming season.

Not surprisingly, under this system, most of the attention was paid to the big colleges and the most prestigious conferences and rarely did a star from a small college, unless he was a multi-talented yardage-gaining wizard, attract much attention. So it wouldn't have been out of the question that Turner, a center who played linebacker on defense for tiny Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, Texas, might have been completely ignored when it came to selecting a new crop of college talent for the 1940 NFL campaign.

As it turned out, not one team but two-the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions-not only had heard about Turner but eagerly sought his services, so much so, in fact, that one team, the Lions, wound up with a $5,000 fine for tampering with a player already on another team's draft list.

During Bulldog's junior year in college, a Hardin-Simmons fan told Frank Korch, a Bears scout, he should keep an eye on the big, blonde youngster. A year later, when Turner played in the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco, Korch remembered the fan's tip and did keep a watchful eye on Turner. Korch was convinced Halas should draft him.

A year earlier, the Lions also became aware of Turner and Detroit Owner Dick Richards actually had gone to the trouble of inviting the big center to visit Beverly Hills, California, where he was wined and dined, treated to some complimentary dental work and given at least $100 as an inducement to resist any other NFL offers that might come along.

Since pro scouting at the time was still in the neanderthal stages, a more progressive team might use a mailed questionnaire as one of its more up-to-date methods of keeping an information file. Usually, a college prospect that didn't want to play pro football-there were actually only a comparitive few college stars who did opt for the pro football career in those days-simply would not return his questionnaire.

But Turner, whose linebacking had been drawing attention during his senior year, sent his routine form back with the notation, "I do not with to play professional football."

George Halas of the Bears, not being able to understand Turner's answering at all if he really wasn't interested, suspected that something might be in the wind and selected Turner as the Bears' No. 1 draft pick.

Meanwhile, Detroit coach Gus Henderson, laboring under the impression that, as his owner told him, Turner was "in the bag," picked passer Doyle Nave from Southern California in the first round. Why waste a choice selection, Henderson reasoned, if no one else would draft Turner?

Subsequent investigation of the Lions' actions prompted League President Carl Storck to levy the tampering fine.

For the Bears, acquiring Turner was a masterstroke and the Sweetwater, Texas, native quickly proved himself to be one of the very best center-linebackers ever to play in the NFL. After just one season, Turner broke Mel Hein's string of eight consecutive years in which he had been named the NFL's official all-league center.

Turner won the honor in both 1941 and 1942 and, after the official selection (a vote of the league's coaches) was discontinued, he won wire service all-NFL honors four more times in 1943, 1944, 1946, and 1948.

The Bears team that Turner joined was on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful teams the NFL ever assembled. At the end of his rookie season, the Bears walloped the Washington Redskins, 73-0, for the 1940 NFL championship. In that game, Turner added to the slaughter by returning his first pro football interception 24 yards for a touchdown. For both the Bears and Turner, the 1940 season marked the beginning of a period of dominance at their specialties, the Bears in winning championships and Turner in being the best all-around center in pro football.

As a linebacker who was blessed with halfback speed, Turner in 1942 had the rare distinction for a center of leading the NFL with eight interceptions. Friend and foe, coaches and players alike all agreed that he was one of the smartest players in the league with a rare ability to diagnose a play on the field or on the blackboard in a split second. On offense, he was a flawless ball-snapper and an exceptional blocker.

If the 6-2, 235-pound Turner had preferred not to play the pivot position, he might well have been an All-NFL running back. In a 1944 game against Card-Pitt when injuries had decimated the Bears' backfield ranks, Turner took over as a ball carrier and consistently grounded out long gains, the most notable one being a 48-yard touchdown sprint in a 48-7 Bears romp.

Perhaps Turner's favorite play of his 13-year career came in 1947 when he intercepted a Sammy Baugh pass and returned it a stunning 96 yards for a touchdown, the third longest such run in NFL annals at the time. Not only was the distance pleasing to Turner but the nature of the run, as well. Keeping close to the sideline all the way down the field, he faked one tackle after another with quick feints and changes of speed. His final victim was Baugh himself whose tackle attempt at the Washington 12 was easily brushed aside.

Turner's football career was at first unspectacular. At Newman High School in Sweetwater, he tried out at guard, tackle and halfback but the 155-pounder could never win a starting assignment. Although he was only 16 when he graduated from high school, he worked for a year as a cattle trader to earn enough money to enter college. In that year, he also built his weight up to 190 pounds.

Shortly after entering Hardin-Simmons, the team's first string center was injured and the coach asked Turner to try out for the spot. "Right then and there," Bulldog recalls, "I knew I had found my place."

But Turner was always a versatile athlete, ready to play anywhere at any time he was needed. After he joined the Bears as a 20-year-old in 1940, he learned the assignment of every position on every play and even drilled at every position except quarterback. In game action, he often filled in at tackle or guard. When he played with the 1945 Army Air Force Superbombers team during World War II, he plugged his team's weakness by playing guard and won both AP and UPI all-service acclaim.

Then he returned to the Bears for the full 1946 season and resumed his customary all-NFL role at center. In 13 professional seasons, he displayed a greatness that made everyone compare him with the seemingly incomparable Mel Hein, a 15-year fixture at center for the New York Giants.

Now, fittingly, both Hein and Turner, who dominated the all-NFL ranks for almost two decades, need no longer be compared for both have gained the ultimate, membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, a treasured honoring spot reserved for only the very best.